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Pompeii, Chernobyl, Tikal: The world’s creepiest ghost towns and abandoned places

These abandoned towns and cities have either been destroyed by man or the destructive forces of nature.

Even though these places were once thriving hubs, the ghost towns are haunting reminders of the fragility of civilization. It’s often hard to believe, but these places were once teeming with life, and in some cases, they were at the height of modern civilization.

Unlike Pompeii, which remains a major tourist attraction, other places such as Chernobyl still remain out of reach for the few people that want to visit. Cities such as Chernobyl are the subject of the book The Atlas of Lost Cities by Aude de Tocqueville. The French author gives details about 44 of the globe’s best-known sites and also reveals how like us, “cities are mortal.” She also writes about less well-known places, such as Centralia, Pennsylvania, an abandoned town that was decimated by an underground fire. In Angola, the city of Nova Citas de Kilamba was built for 500,000 people, and they never came. There is also a tourist town in Argentina named Epecuen that was engulfed by water.

Aude de Tocqueville told National Geographic: “cities were abandoned for four main reasons: natural disaster, economic problems, human folly, or the death of a civilization”.

Below are just a few of the abandoned places around the world that continue to captivate, intrigue, and terrify travelers and historians:


Ruins of Pompeii Photo Credit
Ruins of Pompeii Photo Credit

Pompeii’s met its demise after it was buried in a horrific volcanic eruption when Mount Vesuvius erupted in August, 79AD. Boasting 2.7 million visitors in 2014, Pompeii is the second most visited site in Italy, just behind the Colosseum of Rome. Throughout the city, people can still what it might have looked like, with many artifacts still preserved and the plaster casts of the people who had been trying to flee the eruption.


Lower Town, Lothal
Lower Town, Lothal Photo Credit

According to UNESCO, a tidal flood is probably what decimated the port town of Lothal, even though the town was built to withstand repeated tidal events. The excavated site of Lothal is the only port town located along the Bhogava river, which is a tributary of the Gold of Khambat. Now, the city remains an excellent place for archaeologists to study. Lothal was once a thriving port city; it had upper and lower ends of town, and was heavily fortified, although this could not save it from the rising waters.


Chernobyl disaster,
Chernobyl disaster,

Near Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus is the abandoned city of Pripyat. This happens to be the most famous ghost town in the world. When the Chernobyl nuclear plant went into meltdown in April 1986, causing the world’s worst nuclear disaster, the residents had to flee with very little of their belongings. In the once thriving Soviet town of 50,000 people, photographers came from across the globe to take photos of the abandoned homes, the frozen Ferris wheel, the empty hospitals, and the scattered possessions of the locals.

To protect people from the lingering radiation, an exclusion area of more than 1,000 square miles around the power plant was created. Anyone that wants to visit the site has to obtain a day pass, while for a few limited hours per month, workers that are rebuilding parts of the site are allowed in. Scientists have calculated that some areas will not be safe to inhabit for another 20,000 years.


Centralia as seen from South Street
Centralia as seen from South Street

There are only ten people still living in this once thriving coal mining community, which used to have around 1,400 inhabitants. The town was decimated by an unbelievable underground fire that was supposedly started by some trash men that were working near the mouth of the mine, when some flaming refuse went into the mine and set it on fire. The mine has about an eight-mile stretch that encompasses 3,700 acres and is expected to burn for another 250 years or so. Any and all authorities stopped trying to extinguish the fire due to budget cutbacks in the 1980s. The buildings in town were all condemned in 1992 and in 2002 the U.S. Postal Service abolished Centralia’s zip code. In 2013, as part of a settlement that included a payout of $350,000, the ten residents were allowed to keep their homes.


Angkor Wat Photo Credit
Angkor Wat Photo Credit

In 1860, missionaries discovered that the lost city of Angkor Wat is about twice the size of Manhattan. This ancient place was once a holy archaeological complex in Cambodia’s Siem Reap but now remains only visited by tourists. With 800,000 people visiting the sacred site yearly, and while it is a favored popular attraction still today, the ruins of Cambodia’s majestic temple have suffered tragically over the years. Restoration efforts notwithstanding, the influx of foot traffic means it’s being strained daily. Last year, China stepped to use their satellite technology to monitor the environmental factors that are contributing to the site’s deterioration.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News